The juba stared at the girl with blood-red clothes and hair in fearful recognition. Someone who’d died more than five thousand years ago stood right before its eyes!
“Are, are you human or a ghost?” it ventured in a trembling voice. The terrifying aura it was radiating suddenly contracted and it shrank back to its original size, spikes and dragon head retracting.
“You know me?” Aoxue frowned slightly. She glanced thoughtfully at the juba, who’d now assumed the form of a turtle.
“I….” The juba retracted its head, too scared to speak. It did know Aoxue, but she didn’t recognize him. Long ago, it’d been one of the servants in the North Sea Dragon Palace.
Although the crimson girl before it was only a true immortal, her austere draconic aura was keeping it tightly in check. Moreover, the juba could sense a different aura beneath the surface, one that was much more formidable and sinister. A single wrong move would send it to its doom.
In the turmoil, a long-lost memory rushed to the surface of its befuddled mind.
“Stop, stop, everyone stop!” It hastily interrupted the fight that was about to erupt between the humans and the newly-freed otherkind and black willow.
“The true master of the Skandha Range has finally come. Hail, oh mistress!” The giant turtle lowered itself to the ground and slammed its head several times in a mimicry of kowtowing.
“I am the mistress of this place?” Aoxue was stunned. She looked back blankly at Lu Yun.
Having inspected her memories through the Tome of Life and Death, the young man was just as clueless as her about whatever supposed connection she had to the mountain range.
The black willow peered at Aoxue through widened eyes as well. When it sensed the sinister malevolence she carried, it, too, was overcome by fear.
“Mistress! It really is you!” The willow’s quivering form plainly communicated its awe and reverence. Evidently, it’d come to the same conclusion through a forgotten memory.
The countless otherkind remained relatively still, gaping at the great willow that was supposed to be their leader. Why was this strange woman being called their mistress?
“What is all this?” asked Aoxue. “I am the princess of the North Sea spirits, and no mistress of this place. I have nothing to do with anything here.”
The North Sea water spirits!
It was Yuchi Hanxing’s turn to reel back with incredulous shock. The water spirits weren’t the same as the monster spirits that had now made the sea their home.
Tens of thousands of years ago, Nephrite Major’s North Sea was the domain of its water spirits, ruled by a lineage of dragons from an expansive palace. Though they didn’t bow to the reign of the Nephrite court, there was a comfortable peace between the two factions.
Alas, ten thousand years ago, one of the four immortal seas neighboring Nephrite Major—the Untroubled Sea—had become restless. The dragons of the Untroubled Sea were brutally rooted out, dragging the North Sea water spirits into the conflict. Amid the chaos, the North Sea Dragon Palace fell to the monster spirits.
From that point on, the monster spirits ruled Nephrite’s northern waters, using it as a springboard to wage war upon the major time and time again.
To everyone’s knowledge, the North Sea’s line of dragons had perished alongside their water spirit subjects many millennia ago. Yet here was one of its princesses!
No wonder she could keep the juba down. The girl’s dragon blood forced the juba’s natural subservience to nobler dragonkind to emerge.
A deathly silence set in within the Skandha Range. Everyone waited upon the slender figure with bated breath, their attentions focused upon her.
“Aha! I understand now,” exclaimed Lu Yun suddenly.
“What do you understand, eh?” the black willow harrumphed; it wanted to kill Lu Yun just as much as ever.
The young man wordlessly shook his head, but he’d fully grasped the implications of his epiphany. Who Aoxue was didn’t matter as much as what she was.
Aoxue was a blood dragon. Although the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers had taken away the ‘layout’ portion of her power, she’d kept every other characteristic of her new form. She’d been a gold dragon in life, the royalty of her species. However, she was now indistinguishable from any other blood dragon.
Lu Yun transmitted his thoughts to Aoxue, who lowered her head in thought for a moment. “If I am the mistress of this place, all of you have to listen to me, correct?”
“Yes, mistress. May your will be done!” The willow and turtle said in unison.
“Then my will is for all of you to follow the Governor of Dusk from henceforth, as his subordinates. Can you do that?” Aoxue stated coolly.
“Hail, Your Excellency!”
“Hail, Lord Governor!” An avalanche of deferential cries crescendoed through the Skandha Range.
Yuchi Hanxing was speechless. The cancerous Skandha Range was conquered, just like that?
The place’s influence stretched as far and wide as its cultivators traveled: throughout the entire world. Its membership wasn’t just limited to otherkin cultivators. Some human cultivators that followed darker paths boasted affiliation as well. The mountain ranges represented a humongous faction.
Now, all of it belonged to the Dusk governor…
It was a bit too much for her to take in.
Lu Yun wasn’t in the mood for happiness, though. So the Skandha Range really was related to that bone-chilling Enneawyrm Coffinbearers layout!
He couldn’t say exactly how terrible it was, but it’d withstood him within the gates. There, the power of the book made him invincible, so he should reign supreme. If he hadn’t intervened, the blood dragon from the burial mound would’ve come here and taken over the reins, after its awakening.
Considering Qing Han’s mention of the countless evil human cultivators affiliated with the Skandha Range, the world really would be thrown into chaos then. Moreover, the mystery of the Skandha Extinction Tomb remained unsolved.
“Where are the two representatives from the Lu Clan?” Yuchi Hanxing suddenly interjected.
“The man and the man-shaped equipment spirit?” The old turtle quickly answered. “They went to hide deeper in the mountains when the Dusk Phalanx came.”
“An equipment spirit taking the shape of a man?” Lu Yun and the others were amazed.
“Yes, exactly so,” replied the old turtle. “His true form is a mirror, I think.”
“I see! I know who you’re talking about.” Lu Yun reacted to that last part immediately.
A few days ago, when he’d first returned to Dusk Province’s capital, Feinie had noticed them being surveilled by a strange mirror. That must’ve been this equipment spirit!
“Could they have gone into the Skandha Extinction Tomb?” he wondered. The tomb’s existence particularly intrigued him. If the same person who’d done the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers layout had set this place up, he absolutely needed to put a stop to their plans.
A single blood dragon could bring about a tremendous calamity. There was no telling if something equally scary was here, or worse.
Dusk Province was his territory. There was no way he’d allow unstable elements to exist. When he grew stronger in the future, he intended to neutralize every potential threat in his territory, including that ancient one in the center of the province.
Whatever the Enneawyrm Coffinbearers wanted to destroy, he would save. In fact, the race that was the tomb’s target could very well be able to counter that layout.
“Take your men back to the stronghold, Yuchi.” Lu Yun waved to the commander.
Though Yuchi Hanxing was interested in finding out more about the tomb in the mountain range, she couldn’t disobey the young man’s orders. Her mission here was complete.
Though a hundred thousand or so soldiers had been lost, that paled in comparison with the governor’s conquest of the Skandha Range. Yuchi Hanxing wasn’t heartless, so much as she was desensitized. Such casualties were normal in the North Sea.